Denny was born Jan. 9, 1920, to Presley Denny Pace and Agnes Judd Pace; he was the sixth of 12 children. He was raised from an infant to around 5 years of age on the family homestead at Springdale, Idaho. The family moved to the nearby town of Burley where Denny attended grammar school. He spent his youth exploring the Snake River area by foot and on horseback, fishing, sailing and playing lots of sports. At Burley High he was captain of the football team and a three-year letterman.
Higher education was attained at Albion State Normal and college breaks were spent working at Sun Valley for Union Pacific Railroad, as a busboy and later a waiter. During that time at a get-acquainted ball, he met a “pretty little auburn-haired girl” named Wilma Winder, and the courtship soon followed. With World War II on the horizon, he signed up for the Army Air Corps cadet-training program, graduating with wings and bars as a second lieutenant. He invited Wilma down to California for graduation and they were married in San Mateo, Calif. Denny flew a twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning out of North Africa in World War II for 50 missions over Sicily and Italy, becoming a true hero to family and friends.
Returning stateside, he flew most of the planes that the Air Force had in its inventory, running acceleration tests on the first fighter jets and becoming part of the first jet squadron. As the story goes, Denny piloted the first jet over Idaho and surrounding states. Returning home to Idaho with a hero’s welcome, he went back to work for Sun Valley. Denny stayed active in the reserves as he built a log home on Garnet Street south of Ketchum for Wilma and their children, Patti, Pam and John.
But the military soon called him back with the return of war in Korea to train pilots in combat. He later volunteered and was sent to Vietnam as a wing commander. In Vietnam, he flew multi-engine C-123 cargo planes, dropping flares at night for the fighters and hauling cargo for the troops. Peacetime assignments included multiple tours to Europe, Iceland, Southeast Asia and both coasts of the United States. Toward the end of his career he was honored with and assigned as base commander to the Air Field at Zaragoza, Spain. During his military service Denny was awarded 16 air medals, the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a medal from Generalissimo Franco of Spain. Denny retired from an honorable and successful 30-year military pilot career in the Air Force as a colonel in 1970.
Denny returned to the log cabin he had built in the late 1940s. At first, Denny spent his time remodeling his house and working for a friend in his catering business. He loved to ski Sun Valley and hike the Idaho backcountry, and soon discovered whitewater rafting. What followed for river Capt. Pace were many trips down the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Rogue rivers with friends and family. He also attended most First Fighter Group reunions and was highly involved with local American Legion Post 115, being appointed post commander for many terms. He also served as a board member of the Ketchum Cemetery District.
The last and what may be the most enjoyable part of his life was spent with his present wife, Aubrey. Aubrey was the love of his life, and he was very thankful to be with her. For the past 27 years, they shared the golden years together. Traveling in the RV or car, boat, train or plane, they explored parts of North America, Europe, Africa, South America, Australia and too many other islands and locales to name. They lived north of Ketchum in Aubrey’s home, and through the years they worked together adding on to and doing upkeep to the house and surrounding gardens.
Denny is survived by his wife, Aubrey; children, Patti (Dean) Anderson, Pam (Steve) Rayborn and John (Valdi) Pace; stepchildren, Keith Leslie and Jennifer (Paul) Craig, grandchildren, Angie Rayborn (Joe Miczulski), Stacie (Dale) Bickel, Brooke (Mike) McKenna, Lanette Anderson (Jason) and Tawny (Peter) Sterios; step-grandchildren, John and Nick Leslie and John, Daniel and Brian Craig; and great-grandchildren, Jake and Zack Miczulski, Bodie Bickel, Athena Sterios and Jack and Sam McKenna. His surviving siblings are Faye (late Frank) Miller, Margaret (late Chuck) Higgins and George (Diane) Pace, as well as numerous special nephews and nieces. Denny had a special relationship with his nephew Forrest (Cheryl) Hymas.
Denny was preceded in death by his parents; his first wife, Wilma; and four sisters and four brothers.
Donations can be made to a charity of your choice.
Arrangements are under the care of Wood River Chapel. Friends are invited to share memories and photos and light a candle at www.woodriverchapel.com.